Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ceramic Decal Printer

MudFire recently launched MudFire Labs, a creative play-space for exploring crossover between ceramics, printmaking, technology, and production. Our first big project was a technology evaluation and purchase for a a ceramic decal printer. In this post we'll talk a bit about the technology, the costs, and what the printer is capable of.

But first, take a look at this...over 940 glaze tests we fired last night...


The best part was NOT mixing 940 glaze tests. I found a 14 page Pantone color chart on the web, and imported it into Photoshop and divided into tiles. Then hit print. Awesome!

Technically these tests are overglazes. They were fired on top of commercial porcelain tile with white glaze. The printer prints ceramic pigments. There are four colors in the printer, it is a standard CMYK four color laser printer with special toner. You print using a special Photoshop color profile onto decal paper, prepare the decal paper with a covercoat & flux/glaze, apply the decals to pots that have already been through a glaze firing, and then fire the pots to 1500 F or about Cone 011.

The system includes the ceramic toners, the modified laser printer, decal paper, covercoat, and flux. Industry uses the phrase flux, but it is really a fritted glaze that melts the ceramic toner into the glaze on the work.

Several years ago, purchasing and outfitting a printer system like this cost $30,000 and there was only one vendor in the US that offered a solution. Due to advances in technology and a more competitive market with multiple vendors, you can now purchase a system for under $10,000 with an affordable maintenance contract to protect against unexpected expenses.

MudFire evaluated different options, ranging from a very established pioneer in the field, to hiring a consultant to modify a printer, to outsourcing our decal printing, to a relatively new company in Phoenix called Digital Ceramic Technologies, or DCT. We went with the DCT system. Their website is www.ceramicdecalprinters.com.

Many of you may remember Andy Brayman's service EasyCeramicDecals.com which seems no longer to be active. Janet at www.ceramicdecalprinting.com has picked up where he left off. We had the good fortune to meet Janet during our evaluation and at our DCT training session in Phoenix. If you need someone to print labels for you, don't hesitate to call her. She has I think four printers in-house running full time and was planning on buying another from DCT.

The founders of DCT, Mark and Joel, were early users of another vendor's products, and they started DCT to provide a very customer-focused, high quality, lower cost solution. We think they've achieved that. Visiting their training class in Phoenix was an amazing experience and we were so excited to get back and unpack our system and get printing. They've come up with a simple solution that prints well, having developed their own toners, papers, and coatings that work extremely well together for great color.

We're surprised at how few clay studios have this sort of technology available. I think with DCT out there, that is going to change quickly. If you'd like to read more about my personal vision for how and why I'll be using the printer in my work, check out my personal blog entry. Here's a peak at the first actual pots out of the kiln with color decals.

16 comments:

  1. Nice! I got an email with the info for the Janet decal service. I assumed it was the EasyDecal laser printer system but was puzzled by a reference to screen printing and screen set-up charge. Was going to contact them/her during business hours. If it's the EasyDecal system I'm glad someone has taken it over. I think it's a fantastic resource. although I myself never used it. With your system, how do you apply the cover coat? Will you also be taking orders for custom decals? -Rimas

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  2. Hi Rimas,
    There are a bunch of options on the covercoat that we will use including screening covercoat, spraying covercoat, and using pre-cover-coated decal sheets. They also offer special laminating sheets for people that don't want to deal with the lacquer-based covercoat.
    I believe Janet offers both digitally printed, and silk screened decals.
    For now we bought the system just for use here at MudFire. I would recommend Janet for anyone needing decals printed, that is her business and she does a ton of it. We met her at our training at DCT.
    Erik

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  3. Can you feel the imprint of the decal? And is this food and dishwasher safe?

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    1. It is food and dishwasher safe, it is technically an inglaze decal meaning it is sandwiched between layers of glaze.

      On the first question...There are different ways to prepare and apply the decals prior to firing. Some of the ways result in being able to just barely feel an very slight ridge at the edge of the decal. I think you really have to be looking for it. If for some reason you don't like it, you can just prepare/apply the decals differently.

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  4. I have not experienced ceramic tile printing still but you did a very good job by printing ceramic style design on the glass.

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  5. Do you know what process the consultant would have done to modify the printer? I am fairly tech savy so feel I would be able to accomplish it myself. I have heard one person say it is just a case of emptying the toner and replacing with the ceramic toner which sounds about right but I was wondering if there was more to it.

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  6. Hi Richard,
    I think there is more to it than that. I don't really have specific information but I know there were a lot of software/menu setting changes on the printer and I think even things besides toner modified in the machine. Personally, I think it is well worth the price to buy one, you really aren't paying much more than the printer and supplies cost, and it is all set up and ready to go with free tech support, training, and process consultation.
    Erik

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  7. Hello Richard,
    That's true, you just need to change the developer and toner of the machine, if you have the laser color printer,you just need to clean the printing channel.More information please contact me: cjalicewang@gmail.com.skype: cjalicew.

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  8. I looked on ceramicdecalprinters.com and saw two payment plans for two different printer set-ups. I was wondering if you bought your system outright?

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  14. Hi,

    I just read a 2012 Erick Haagensen article on MudFire.com about your purchase of the DCT ceramic decal printer.

    I run a very small one man ceramic studio. I am considering buying a ceramic decal printing system. I NEED TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE.

    Please share your experiences using your DCT printer and your remarks about the DCT company.

    Was the other company you researched Enduring Images?

    Why did you decide on the DCT program?

    Thanks for your help.


    Andy Sheppard
    Owner/Artist of Pat Young Ceramic Arts
    Studio established in 1954

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